Illinois Republican primary candidate for governor Bruce Rauner denied the allegations of opponent Treasurer Dan Rutherford at his appearance Saturday during a meeting of the Bureau-La Salle Tea Party at Pitstick Pavilion in Ottawa.
According to a report from The Associated Press, Rutherford said on Friday that an employee in his office who has made “allegations of misconduct” against him was being represented by an attorney who had been on Rauner’s payroll. Rutherford said the attorney, Christine Svenson, demanded $300,000 on the employee’s behalf to “walk away and keep it under wraps,” the report said.
The report said Rutherford accused Rauner of being behind a “fishy” scheme to taint his image.
“It’s outrageous, baloney, completely ridiculous,” Rauner said Saturday. “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Rauner’s spokesman, Mike Schrimpf, repeated his statement from the AP report that Svenson worked for Rauner this past spring on an office space lease. She was paid $3,500 at the end of this past July, Schrimpf said, and Rauner’s campaign hadn’t worked with her since.
Rauner spoke to a group of about 30-40 people who had braved the dangerous winter roads to hear his message.
“Rather than leave the state, I want to fight to transform the government,” he said. His key goals, on which he will “focus like a laser,” are “more jobs, lower taxes, better schools and term limits.”
Rauner said he wanted to do in Illinois what Gov. Scott Walker has done in Wisconsin and Gov. Rick Snyder in Michigan, and said former Indiana Gov. “Mitch Daniels is my role model.”
He said he wasn’t anti-union — “Go join a union if you want” — but said he would battle government union bosses.
“I am the biggest advocate for free-market capitalism in the nation,” he said.
Rauner called raising the minimum wage “a double-edged sword,” saying it could help families, but hurt small businesses.
“We need a booming economy where companies are competing to hire workers,” he said. He would support a modest minimum wage increase, he said, in conjunction with other economic reforms.
His proposal for pension reform would be for retiring legislators to have “a defined contribution plan” as part of their 401k.
He said he was working with a group called U.S. Term Limits to collect signatures to get term limits placed on the ballot as a constitutional referendum.
“Eight years and out,” he said about term limits. “Then you find something else to do.”
Rauner said his message appeals to young people, whom he characterized as “libertarian, worried about debt and worried about schools.”
“We need to bring more young voters to the Republican Party, and we’re working aggressively to do that,” he said.
Rauner kept to the right on social issues, calling the Affordable Care Act “a tragic government overreach” and referring to himself as a “Second Amendment believer.” On gay marriage, he said, he had never taken a position one way or the other, but believed voters should decide whether or not to legalize it in a referendum. Abortion he called “tragic,” but steered away from the idea of changing the law.
Rauner said his plan as governor would be to bring people from the private sector to manage different departments, form a task force to take on comprehensive reform at all levels and be present with the legislature and get to know each member.
He called his message “unifying,” pointing to endorsements from Rev. James Meeks and Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastors of large, African-American churches in Chicago.
“There are good legislators in both political parties,” he said, adding that he would work with Democrats as well as Republicans to bring about reforms.
Rauner’s appearance was not publicized prior to the event at the request of his campaign.
“We have had a number of events disrupted by protesters,” spokesman Schrimpf explained.
The Bureau-La Salle Tea Party audience received Rauner’s message politely, with several people asking him questions.
Group organizer Art Havenhill emphasized that Rauner’s appearance was not an endorsement, but that the group’s purpose was “to educate.”
“This same invitation was extended to (Republican primary candidate Kirk) Dillard,” Havenhill said, adding that the group has invited speakers from both political parties. “We just want people to get off their tail and start participating.”
Havenhill’s wife, Ruth Havenhill, agreed.
“We always invite Republicans and Democrats — we just want people to hear the candidates,” she said. But she did say she was “impressed” by Rauner. “He didn’t say anything I don’t like — let’s put it that way,” she said with a smile.
Rachel Stella can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or firstname.lastname@example.org.